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(3rd LD) Cho denies allegations involving his daughter, PEF investment

Politics 17:31 September 02, 2019

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more info throughout)

SEOUL, Sept. 2 (Yonhap) -- Cho Kuk, the embattled justice minister nominee, denied academic-related allegations over his daughter and a dubious investment in a private equity fund (PEF), as he sought to clarify corruption scandals involving his family on Monday.

Cho, former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, held a press conference at the National Assembly to address the scandals as the hearings set for Monday and Tuesday have effectively fallen through amid political wrangling.

Cho is the focus of public outcry over alleged corruption involving his family, including the suspected undue entrance by his daughter into an elite university and a hefty dubious investment in the PEF.

His daughter was listed as a primary writer of a pathology paper published in a renowned medical journal when she took part in a two-week internship at a medical science institute in 2008 as a high school student. Critics speculate that he may have been involved in her listing and that the paper might have helped her gain admission to Korea University in 2010.

"I did not know the detailed process (about my daughter being listed as the first writer for the paper) at that time, and I've come to identify the allegation during the latest verification process," Cho said.

Cho dismissed allegations that he had contacted a professor to enable his daughter to receive preferential treatment.

"It seems that standards in judging who is the primary or second writer were murky or granting that status hinged on a professor in charge at that time," he added.

Snowballing corruption allegations have made headlines since he was tapped to lead the justice ministry in an Aug. 9 Cabinet shakeup.

Cho, a reform-minded law professor, said he "deeply" apologizes over the fact that the mounting allegations caused public uproar.

Public anger at his "hypocritical" behavior has increased as Cho has preached for a fair and just society and called for the need to eradicate social ills committed by the privileged.

"I am deeply sorry and apologize (to the public) over the fact that I was not strict toward (my family)," he said.

Justice minister nominee Cho Kuk holds a press conference at the National Assembly on Sept. 2, 2019, to clarify corruption allegations involving his family. (Yonhap)

Political parties earlier agreed to hold a confirmation hearing this week, but sparred over a list of witnesses, making the scheduled session nearly fall through.

Earlier in the day, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) said it will not demand Cho's daughter, wife and mother attend the hearing as witnesses.

Instead, the conservative party called for the hearing to be held in accordance with legally-set procedures, which means that the session will be held at least five days later.

But the DP has stuck to the original hearing schedule, saying that the LKP is seeking to prolong a political impasse involving Cho's allegations.

The LKP condemned Cho's plan as a move to "disregard" the National Assembly. The minor opposition Bareunmirae Party slammed it as an "illegal" confirmation hearing and plans to file a complaint with the prosecution against President Moon Jae-in and related officials for alleged abuse of power.

Last week, prosecutors carried out simultaneous raids on some 20 locations, including five universities, as part of its probe into the allegations.

The DP slammed the prosecution's raids as a move to hamper President Moon's drive to reform the elite investigation agency.

During the press conference, Cho said if he is appointed as the minister, he will order the prosecution not to report to him the progress over the investigation into his family.

"Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl will conduct probes in accordance with the law and based on evidence," he added.

The nominee, meanwhile, flatly denied allegations over the PEF investment by his family.

His wife faces allegations that she sought to evade the gift tax after she invested over 1 billion won (US$865,765) in the PEF with her two children.

Cho's family promised to invest the money that is larger than its total wealth in the PEF two months after Cho was named as senior presidential secretary for civil affairs in May 2017.

The fund bought a firm that produces automatic switches for streetlamps, which later secured hundreds of orders issued by the government and saw an increase in sales.

"My wife and I did not know about whatever the makeup of the PEF and its operation are, so (my family) was not involved in the PEF-related operation," he noted.

President Moon named Cho as the new justice minister in a move reflecting his commitment to conduct the sweeping overhaul of the prosecution.

The adoption of a confirmation hearing report by parliament is a procedural way to express the assembly's consent to the president's nomination of ministerial-level officials.

Moon is likely to ask the National Assembly to send the hearing report about Cho to him on Tuesday, regardless of whether a hearing session will convene. This means Moon may appoint Cho as the justice minister without a hearing.

A Realmeter poll showed a majority of respondents are opposed Moon's potential appointment of Cho as justice minister. But the portion of people approving his appointment rose to 42.3 percent as of Friday, up 3.1 percentage points from two days earlier.

Ruling Democratic Party (DP) lawmakers on the parliamentary legislation committee hold a press briefing at the National Assembly in Seoul on Sept. 2, 2019, over a confirmation hearing for Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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